Electronics giant Samsung filed for a patent in May 2019 titled, “Programmable Blockchain Solid State Drive and Switch.” Even though few details are known about the newly designed system, a surge in patent applications filed by large corporations on blockchain is clearly visible.
Patent wars — i.e., battles between corporations or individuals to secure patents for litigation — are certainly not new. They have been widely practiced in the tech ecosystem since the times of Alexander Graham Bell at the turn of the 20th century, who was involved in over 600 lawsuits.
Any great invention from the past century has a history of some kind of patent war, but the digital age has accelerated this phenomenon. From the PC wars between Apple and Microsoft to the smartphone wars of the past decade, patents have been used for both offensive and defensive measures.
It has been clear since the beginning that blockchain would see an increasing interest from corporations, which would turn to securing their patents as soon as possible. In just over a year, IBM has tripled the number of blockchain patents secured in the United States to over 100, while Alibaba leads the way with over 260 patents related to blockchain.
The number of global blockchain patent filings now considerably outpaces the patent filings for other technologies. However, Samsung has stayed relatively restrained with blockchain. That is, until it registered for a programmable blockchain SSD.
Technical details about the Samsung patent
This programmable data storage device consists of a nonvolatile memory and a storage controller that is configured to control the system. It has a network interface and a field programmable gate array that is configured to implement a blockchain algorithm. While doing so, it stores at least a block of a blockchain corresponding to the blockchain algorithm in its nonvolatile memory through the storage controller.
Moreover, the gate array will be configured to a processor that has a memory with instructions stored. When executed, the processor sends and receives one or more blocks of the blockchain via the network interface. Additionally, the processor controls the programmable gate array to execute the blockchain algorithm on one or more blocks of the blockchain.
Advantages of the new patent
To understand the significance of this new patent, the drawbacks of general purpose computer devices and ASICs should first be examined.
General purpose computer devices (usually GPUs) must be combined with the right software, drivers and configurations to execute a moderately efficient mining algorithm. Even though one GPU can mine multiple coins through this technique, its efficiency is very low. What’s more, to change the coin being mined is a hassle and very few miners are able to do so, while the cost of GPUs can vary significantly, as their price is influenced by the gaming and virtual reality industries.
On the other hand, ASIC miners are professional mining equipment designed for computing a specific algorithm. This narrowed scope gives the hardware the ability to mine efficiently compared to general-purpose computing devices. However, the rigidity in mining algorithms makes the miner obsolete once a newer, more efficient device becomes available, and many coins are specifically designed to be incompatible with ASICs.
Sam Town, an independent crypto analyst told Cointelegraph that Samsung’s patent doesn’t necessarily mean that the company is going to develop the product:
“Patents are not necessarily a tool to just protect your idea. It can be a defensive weapon to stop other companies from making similar products. Moreover, it can be used to send a signal to the market about the company’s intentions. This is most likely the case with Samsung”
However, Nicolas Kokkalis, the head of technology at Pi, the first digital currency compatible with mobile mining, doesn’t agree with Town. Kokkalis stated:
“Flexibility comes at the cost of speed and power consumption. FPGAs can
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